Part 6 out of 7
"Take Kulun," it was Drake, pistol drawn and whispering
across to me. "I'll handle Cherkis. And shoot straight."
Norhala's hand that had gone from my wrist dropped
down again; the other fell upon Drake's.
Kulun loosed his hood, let it fall about his shoulders.
He stepped forward, held out his arms to Norhala.
"A strong man!" she cried approvingly. "Hail--my bridegroom!
But stay--stand back a moment. Stand beside that
man for whom I came to Ruszark. I would see you together!"
Kulun's face darkened. But Cherkis smiled with evil
understanding, shrugged his shoulders and whispered to
him. Sullenly Kulun stepped back. The ring of the archers
lowered their bows; they leaped to their feet and stood
aside to let him pass.
Quick as a serpent's tongue a pyramid tipped tentacle
flicked out beneath us. It darted through the broken circle
of the bowmen.
It LICKED up Ruth and Ventnor and--Kulun!
Swiftly as it had swept forth it returned, coiled and
dropped those two I loved at Norhala's feet.
It flashed back on high with the scarlet length of
Cherkis's son sprawled along its angled end.
The great body of Cherkis seemed to wither.
Up from all the wall went a tempestuous sigh of horror.
Out rang the merciless chimes of Norhala's laughter.
"Tchai!" she cried. "Tchai! Fat fool there. Tchai--you
Cherkis! Toad whose wits have sickened with your years!
"Did you think to catch me, Norhala, in your filthy web?
Princess! Queen! Empress of Earth! Ho--old fox I have
outplayed and beaten, what now have you to trade with
Mouth sagging open, eyes glaring, the tyrant slowly
raised his arms--a suppliant.
"You would have back the bridegroom you gave me?"
she laughed. "Take him, then."
Down swept the metal arm that held Kulun. The arm
dropped Cherkis's son at Cherkis's feet; and as though
Kulun had been a grape--it crushed him!
Before those who had seen could stir from their stupor
the tentacle hovered over Cherkis, glaring down at the
horror that had been his son.
It did not strike him--it drew him up to it as a magnet
draws a pin.
And as the pin swings from the magnet when held
suspended by the head, so swung the great body of
Cherkis from the under side of the pyramid that held him.
Hanging so he was carried toward us, came to a stop
not ten feet from us--
Weird, weird beyond all telling was that scene--and
would I had the power to make you who read see it as
The animate, living Shape of metal on which we stood,
with its forest of hammer-handed arms raised menacingly
along its mile of spindled length; the great walls glistening
with the armored hosts; the terraces of that fair and
ancient city, their gardens and green groves and clustering
red and yellow-roofed houses and temples and palaces;
the swinging gross body of Cherkis in the clutch of the
unseen grip of the tentacle, his grizzled hair touching the
side of the pyramid that held him, his arms half outstretched,
the gemmed cloak flapping like the wings of a
jeweled bat, his white, malignant face in which the evil
eyes were burning slits flaming hell's own blackest hatred;
and beyond the city, from which pulsed almost visibly a
vast and hopeless horror, the watching column--and over
all this the palely radiant white sky under whose light the
encircling cliffs were tremendous stony palettes splashed
with a hundred pigments.
Norhala's laughter had ceased. Somberly she looked
upon Cherkis, into the devil fires of his eyes.
"Cherkis!" she half whispered. "Now comes the end for
you--and for all that is yours! But until the end's end
you shall see."
The hanging body was thrust forward; was thrust up;
was brought down upon its feet on the upper plane of
the prostrate pyramid tipping the metal arm that held him.
For an instant he struggled to escape; I think he meant to
hurl himself down upon Norhala, to kill her before he
himself was slain.
If so, after one frenzied effort he realized the futility,
for with a certain dignity he drew himself upright, turned
his eyes toward the city.
Over that city a dreadful silence hung. It was as
though it cowered, hid its face, was afraid to breathe.
"The end!" murmured Norhala.
There was a quick trembling through the Metal Thing. Down
swung its forest of sledges. Beneath the blow down fell the
smitten walls, shattered, crumbling, and with it glittering
like shining flies in a dust storm fell the armored men.
Through that mile-wide breach and up to the inner barrier
I glimpsed confusion chaotic. And again I say it--
they were no cowards, those men of Cherkis. From the
inner battlements flew clouds of arrows, of huge stones
--as uselessly as before.
Then out from the opened gates poured regiments of
horsemen, brandishing javelins and great maces, and
shouting fiercely as they drove down upon each end of the
Metal Shape. Under cover of their attack I saw cloaked
riders spurring their ponies across the plain to shelter of
the cliff walls, to the chance of hiding places within them.
Women and men of the rich, the powerful, flying for
safety; after them ran and scattered through the fields of
grain a multitude on foot.
The ends of the spindle drew back before the horsemen's
charge, broadening as they went--like the heads of
monstrous cobras withdrawing into their hoods. Abruptly,
with a lightning velocity, these broadenings expanded into
immense lunettes, two tremendous curving and crablike
claws. Their tips flung themselves past the racing troops;
then like gigantic pincers began to contract.
Of no avail now was it for the horsemen to halt
dragging their mounts on their haunches, or to turn to
fly. The ends of the lunettes had met, the pincer tips had
closed. The mounted men were trapped within half-mile-wide
circles. And in upon man and horse their living walls
marched. Within those enclosures of the doomed began a
frantic milling--I shut my eyes--
There was a dreadful screaming of horses, a shrieking
of men. Then silence.
Shuddering, I looked. Where the mounted men had been
Nothing? There were two great circular spaces whose
floors were glistening, wetly red. Fragments of man or
horse--there was none. They had been crushed into--
what was it Norhala had promised--had been stamped
into the rock beneath the feet of her--servants.
Sick, I looked away and stared at a Thing that writhed
and undulated over the plain; a prodigious serpentine
Shape of cubes and spheres linked and studded thick with
the spikes of the pyramid. Through the fields, over the
plain its coils flashed.
Playfully it sped and twisted among the fugitives,
crushing them, tossing them aside broken, gliding over
them. Some there were who hurled themselves upon it in
impotent despair, some who knelt before it, praying. On
rolled the metal convolutions, inexorable.
Within my vision's range there were no more fugitives.
Around a corner of the broken battlements raced the serpent
Shape. Where it had writhed was now no waving
grain, no trees, no green thing. There was only smooth
rock upon which here and there red smears glistened wetly.
Afar there was a crying, in its wake a rumbling. It was
the column, it came to me, at work upon the further
battlements. As though the sound had been a signal the
spindle trembled; up we were thrust another hundred feet
or more. Back dropped the host of brandished arms,
threaded themselves into the parent bulk.
Right and left of us the spindle split into scores of
fissures. Between these fissures the Metal Things that made
up each now dissociate and shapeless mass geysered;
block and sphere and tetrahedron spike spun and
swirled. There was an instant of formlessness.
Then right and left of us stood scores of giant, grotesque
warriors. Their crests were fully fifty feet below
our living platform. They stood upon six immense,
columnar stilts. These sextuple legs supported a hundred
feet above their bases a huge and globular body formed
of clusters of the spheres. Out from each of these bodies
that were at one and the same time trunks and heads,
sprang half a score of colossal arms shaped like flails;
like spike-studded girders, Titanic battle maces, Cyclopean
From legs and trunks and arms the tiny eyes of the
Metal Hordes flashed, exulting.
There came from them, from the Thing we rode as well,
a chorus of thin and eager wailings and pulsed through
all that battle-line, a jubilant throbbing.
Then with a rhythmic, JOCUND stride they leaped upon
Under the mallets of the smiting arms the inner battlements
fell as under the hammers of a thousand metal
Thors. Over their fragments and the armored men who
fell with them strode the Things, grinding stone and man
together as we passed.
All of the terraced city except the side hidden by the
mount lay open to my gaze. In that brief moment of
pause I saw crazed crowds battling in narrow streets,
trampling over mounds of the fallen, surging over barricades
of bodies, clawing and tearing at each other in their
There was a wide, stepped street of gleaming white stone
that climbed like an immense stairway straight up the
slope to that broad plaza at the top where clustered the
great temples and palaces--the Acropolis of the city. Into
it the streets of the terraces flowed, each pouring out upon
it a living torrent, tumultuous with tuliped, sparkling little
waves, the gay coverings and the arms and armor of
Ruszark's desperate thousands seeking safety at the shrines
of their gods.
Here great carven arches arose; there slender, exquisite
towers capped with red gold--there was a street of
colossal statues, another over which dozens of graceful,
fretted bridges threw their spans from feathery billows of
flowering trees; there were gardens gay with blossoms in
which fountains sparkled, green groves; thousands upon
thousands of bright multicolored pennants, banners, fluttered.
A fair, a lovely city was Cherkis's stronghold of Ruszark.
Its beauty filled the eyes; out from it streamed the
fragrance of its gardens--the voice of its agony was
that of the souls in Dis.
The row of destroying shapes lengthened, each huge
warrior of metal drawing far apart from its mates. They
flexed their manifold arms, shadow boxed--grotesquely,
Down struck the flails, the sledges. Beneath the blows
the buildings burst like eggshells, their fragments burying
the throngs fighting for escape in the thoroughfares that
threaded them. Over their ruins we moved.
Down and ever down crashed the awful sledges. And
ever under them the city crumbled.
There was a spider Shape that crawled up the wide
stairway hammering into the stone those who tried to flee
Stride by stride the Destroying Things ate up the city.
I felt neither wrath nor pity. Through me beat a jubilant
roaring pulse--as though I were a shouting corpuscle of
the rushing hurricane, as though I were one of the hosts
of smiting spirits of the bellowing typhoon.
Through this stole another thought--vague, unfamiliar,
yet seemingly of truth's own essence. Why, I wondered,
had I never recognized this before? Why had I never known
that these green forms called trees were but ugly, unsymmetrical
excrescences? That these high projections of
towers, these buildings were deformities?
That these four-pronged, moving little shapes that
screamed and ran were--hideous?
They must be wiped out! All this misshapen, jumbled,
inharmonious ugliness must be wiped out! It must be
ground down to smooth unbroken planes, harmonious
curvings, shapeliness--harmonies of arc and line and
Something deep within me fought to speak--fought to
tell me that this thought was not human thought, not my
thought--that it was the reflected thought of the Metal
It told me--and fiercely it struggled to make me realize
what it was that it told. Its insistence was borne upon
little despairing, rhythmic beatings--throbbings that were
like the muffled sobbings of the drums of grief. Louder,
closer came the throbbing; clearer with it my perception
of the inhumanness of my thought.
The drum beat tapped at my humanity, became a
dolorous knocking at my heart.
It was the sobbing of Cherkis!
The gross face was shrunken, the cheeks sagging in folds
of woe; cruelty and wickedness were wiped from it; the
evil in the eyes had been washed out by tears. Eyes
streaming, bull throat and barrel chest racked by his
sobbing, he watched the passing of his people and his city.
And relentlessly, coldly, Norhala watched him--as
though loath to lose the faintest shadow of his agony.
Now I saw we were close to the top of the mount.
Packed between us and the immense white structures that
crowned it were thousands of the people. They fell on
their knees before us, prayed to us. They tore at each
other, striving to hide themselves from us in the mass
that was themselves. They beat against the barred doors
of the sanctuaries; they climbed the pillars; they swarmed
over the golden roofs.
There was a moment of chaos--a chaos of which we
were the heart. Then temple and palace cracked, burst;
were shattered; fell. I caught glimpses of gleaming
sculptures, glitterings of gold and of silver, flashing of
gems, shimmering of gorgeous draperies--under them a
weltering of men and women.
We closed down upon them--over them!
The dreadful sobbing ceased. I saw the head of Cherkis
swing heavily upon a shoulder; the eyes closed.
The Destroying Things touched. Their flailing arms
coiled back, withdrew into their bodies. They joined,
forming for an instant a tremendous hollow pillar far down
in whose center we stood. They parted; shifted in shape?
rolled down the mount over the ruins like a widening wave
--crushing into the stone all over which they passed.
Afar away I saw the gleaming serpent still at play--
still writhing among, still obliterating the few score
scattered fugitives that some way, somehow, had slipped by
the Destroying Things.
We halted. For one long moment Norhala looked upon
the drooping body of him upon whom she had let fall
this mighty vengeance.
Then the metal arm that held Cherkis whirled.
Thrown from it, the cloaked form flew like a great blue
bat. It fell upon the flattened mound that had once been
the proud crown of his city. A blue blot upon desolation
the broken body of Cherkis lay.
A black speck appeared high in the sky; grew fast--
"I have left carrion for you--after all!" cried Norhala.
With an ebon swirling of wings the vulture dropped
beside the blue heap--thrust in it its beak.
Slowly we descended that mount of desolation; lingeringly,
as though the brooding eyes of Norhala were not
yet sated with destruction. Of human life, of green life,
of life of any kind there was none.
Man and tree, woman and flower, babe and bud, palace,
temple and home--Norhala had stamped flat. She had
crushed them within the rock--even as she had promised.
The tremendous tragedy had absorbed my every
faculty; I had had no time to think of my companions; I
had forgotten them. Now in the painful surges of awakening
realization, of full human understanding of that inhuman
annihilation, I turned to them for strength. Faintly
I wondered again at Ruth's scantiness of garb, her more
than half nudity; dwelt curiously upon the red brand
across Ventnor's forehead.
In his eyes and in Drake's I saw reflected the horror I
knew was in my own. But in the eyes of Ruth was none of
this--sternly, coldly triumphant, indifferent to its piteousness
as Norhala herself, she scanned the waste that less
than an hour since had been a place of living beauty.
I felt a shock of repulsion. After all, those who had
been destroyed so ruthlessly could not ALL have been
wholly evil. Yet mother and blossoming maid, youth and
oldster, all the pageant of humanity within the great walls
were now but lines within the stone. According to their
different lights, it came to me, there had been in Ruszark
no greater number of the wicked than one could find in
any great city of our own civilization.
From Norhala, of course, I looked for no perception of
any of this. But from Ruth--
My reaction grew; the pity long withheld racing
through me linked with a burning anger, a hatred for this
woman who had been the directing soul of that catastrophe.
My gaze fell again upon the red brand. I saw that it
was a deep indentation as though a thong had been twisted
around Ventnor's head biting the bone. There was dried
blood on the edges, a double ring of swollen white flesh
rimming the cincture. It was the mark of--torture!
"Martin," I cried. "That ring? What did they do to you?"
"They waked me with that," he answered quietly. "I
suppose I ought to be grateful--although their intentions
were not exactly--therapeutic--"
"They tortured him," Ruth's voice was tense, bitter;
she spoke in Persian--for Norhala's benefit I thought
then, not guessing a deeper reason. "They tortured him.
They gave him agony until he--returned. And they promised
him other agonies that would make him pray long for death.
"And me--me"--she raised little clenched hands--"me
they stripped like a slave. They led me through the city
and the people mocked me. They took me before that
swine Norhala has punished--and stripped me before him
--like a slave. Before my eyes they tortured my brother.
Norhala--they were evil, all evil! Norhala--you did well
to slay them!"
She caught the woman's hands, pressed close to her.
Norhala gazed at her from great gray eyes in which the
wrath was dying, into which the old tranquillity, the old
serenity was flowing. And when she spoke the golden
voice held more than returning echoes of the far-away,
"It is done," she said. "And it was well done--sister.
Now you and I shall dwell together in peace--sister. Or
if there be those in the world from which you came that
you would have slain, then you and I shall go forth
with our companies and stamp them out--even as I did
My heart stopped beating--for from the depths of
Ruth's eyes shining shadows were rising, wraiths answering
Norhala's calling; and, as they rose, steadily they drew
life from the clear radiance summoning--drew closer to
the semblance of that tranquil spirit which her vengeance
had banished but that had now returned to its
twin thrones of Norhala's eyes.
And at last it was twin sister of Norhala who looked
upon her from the face of Ruth!
The white arms of the woman encircled her; the glorious
head bent over her; flaming tresses mingled with
tender brown curls.
"Sister!" she whispered. "Little sister! These men you
shall have as long as it pleases you--to do with as you
will. Or if it is your wish they shall go back to their
world and I will guard them to its gates.
"But you and I, little sister, will dwell together--in the
vastnesses--in the peace. Shall it not be so?"
With no faltering, with no glance toward us three--
lover, brother, old friend--Ruth crept closer to her, rested
her head upon the virginal, royal breasts.
"It shall be so!" she murmured. "Sister--it shall be so.
Norhala--I am tired. Norhala--I have seen enough of
An ecstasy of tenderness, a flame of unearthly rapture,
trembled over the woman's wondrous face. Hungrily, defiantly,
she pressed the girl to her; the stars in the lucid
heavens of her eyes were soft and gentle and caressing.
"Ruth!" cried Drake--and sprang toward them. She paid
no heed; and even as he leaped he was caught, whirled
back against us.
"Wait," said Ventnor, and caught him by the arm as
wrathfully, blindedly, he strove against the force that held
him. "Wait. No use--now."
There was a curious understanding in his voice--a curious
sympathy, too, in the patient, untroubled gaze that
dwelt upon his sister and this weirdly exquisite woman
who held her.
"Wait!" exclaimed Drake. "Wait--hell! The damned
witch is stealing her away from us!"
Again he threw himself forward; recoiled as though
swept back by an invisible arm; fell against us and was
clasped and held by Ventnor. And as he struggled the
Thing we rode halted. Like metal waves back into it
rushed the enigmatic billows that had washed over the
fragments of the city.
We were lifted; between us and the woman and girl a
cleft appeared; it widened into a rift. It was as though
Norhala had decreed it as a symbol of this her second
victory--or had set it between us as a barrier.
Wider grew the rift. Save for the bridge of our voices it
separated us from Ruth as though she stood upon another world.
Higher we rose; the three of us now upon the flat top
of a tower upon whose counterpart fifty feet away and
facing the homeward path, Ruth and Norhala stood with
white arms interlaced.
The serpent shape flashed toward us; it vanished beneath,
merging into the waiting Thing.
Then slowly the Thing began to move; quietly it
glided to the chasm it had blasted in the cliff wall. The
shadow of those walls fell upon us. As one we looked
back; as one we searched out the patch of blue with
the black blot at its breast.
We found it; then the precipices hid it. Silently we
streamed through the chasm, through the canyon and the
tunnel--speaking no word, Drake's eyes fixed with bitter
hatred upon Norhala, Ventnor brooding upon her always
with that enigmatic sympathy. We passed between the
walls of the further cleft; stood for an instant at the
brink of the green forest.
There came to us as though from immeasurable distances,
a faint, sustained thrumming--like the beating of
countless muffled drums. The Thing that carried us
trembled--the sound died away. The Thing quieted; it began its
steady, effortless striding through the crowding trees--but
now with none of that speed with which it had come,
spurred forward by Norhala's awakened hate.
Ventnor stirred; broke the silence. And now I saw how
wasted was his body, how sharpened his face; almost
ethereal; purged not only by suffering but by, it came to
me, some strange knowledge.
"No use, Drake," he said dreamily. "All this is now on
the knees of the gods. And whether those gods are humanity's
or whether they are--Gods of Metal--I do not know.
"But this I do know--only one way or another can the
balance fall; and if it be one way, then you and we shall
have Ruth back. And if it falls the other way--then there
will be little need for us to care. For man will be done!"
"Martin! What do you mean?"
"It is the crisis," he answered. "We can do nothing,
Goodwin--nothing. Whatever is to be steps forth now from
the womb of Destiny."
Again there came that distant rolling--louder, now.
Again the Thing trembled.
"The drums," whispered Ventnor. "The drums of destiny.
What is it they are heralding? A new birth of Earth and
the passing of man? A new child to whom shall be given
dominion--nay, to whom has been given dominion? Or
is it--taps--for Them?"
The drumming died as I listened--fearfully. About us
was only the swishing, the sighing of the falling trees
beneath the tread of the Thing. Motionless stood Norhala;
and as motionless Ruth.
"Martin," I cried once more, a dreadful doubt upon me.
"Martin--what do you mean?"
"Whence did--They--come?" His voice was clear and
calm, the eyes beneath the red brand clear and quiet,
too. "Whence did They come--these Things that carry us?
That strode like destroying angels over Cherkis's city?
Are they spawn of Earth--as we are? Or are they foster
children--changelings from another star?
"These creatures that when many still are one--that
when one still are many. Whence did They come? What
He looked down upon the cubes that held us; their
hosts of tiny eyes shone up at him, enigmatically--as
though they heard and understood.
"I do not forget," he said. "At least not all do I forget
of what I saw during that time when I seemed an atom
outside space--as I told you, or think I told you, speaking
with unthinkable effort through lips that seemed eternities
away from me, the atom, who strove to open them.
"There were three--visions, revelations--I know not
what to call them. And though each seemed equally real,
of two of them, only one, I think, can be true; and of the
third--that may some time be true but surely is not yet."
Through the air came a louder drum roll--in it something
ominous, something sinister. It swelled to a crescendo;
abruptly ceased. And now I saw Norhala raise her
"I saw a world, a vast world, Goodwin, marching stately
through space. It was no globe--it was a world of many
facets, of smooth and polished planes; a huge blue jewel
world, dimly luminous; a crystal world cut out from
Aether. A geometric thought of the Great Cause, of God,
if you will, made material. It was airless, waterless, sunless.
"I seemed to draw closer to it. And then I saw that
over every facet patterns were traced; gigantic symmetrical
designs; mathematical hieroglyphs. In them I read unthinkable
calculations, formulas of interwoven universes,
arithmetical progressions of armies of stars, pandects of
the motions of the suns. In the patterns was an appalling
harmony--as though all the laws from those which guide
the atom to those which direct the cosmos were there
resolved into completeness--totalled.
"The faceted world was like a cosmic abacist, tallying
as it marched the errors of the infinite.
"The patterned symbols constantly changed form. I
drew nearer--the symbols were alive. They were, in
He pointed to the Thing that bore us.
"I was swept back; looked again upon it from afar.
And a fantastic notion came to me--fantasy it was, of
course, yet built I know around a nucleus of strange
truth. It was"--his tone was half whimsical, half apologetic
--"it was that this jeweled world was ridden by some
mathematical god, driving it through space, noting
occasionally with amused tolerance the very bad arithmetic
of another Deity the reverse of mathematical--a more or
less haphazard Deity, the god, in fact, of us and the
things we call living.
"It had no mission; it wasn't at all out to do any reforming;
it wasn't in the least concerned in rectifying
any of the inaccuracies of the Other. Only now and then
it took note of the deplorable differences between the
worlds it saw and its own impeccably ordered and tidy
temple with its equally tidy servitors.
"Just an itinerant demiurge of supergeometry riding
along through space on its perfectly summed-up world;
master of all celestial mechanics; its people independent
of all that complex chemistry and labor for equilibrium
by which we live; needing neither air nor water, heeding
neither heat nor cold; fed with the magnetism of interstellar
space and stopping now and then to banquet off
the energy of some great sun."
A thrill of amazement passed through me; fantasy all
this might be but--how, if so, had he gotten that last
thought? He had not seen, as we had, the orgy in the
Hall of the Cones, the prodigious feeding of the Metal
Monster upon our sun.
"That passed," he went on, unnoticing. "I saw vast
caverns filled with the Things; working, growing, multiplying.
In caverns of our Earth--the fruit of some unguessed womb? I
do not know.
"But in those caverns, under countless orbs of many
colored lights"--again the thrill of amaze shook me--
"they grew. It came to me that they were reaching out
toward sunlight and the open. They burst into it--into
yellow, glowing sunlight. Ours? I do not know. And that
His voice deepened.
"There came a third vision. I saw our Earth--I knew,
Goodwin, indisputably, unmistakably that it was our
earth. But its rolling hills were leveled, its mountains
were ground and shaped into cold and polished symbols
"The seas were fettered, gleaming like immense jewels
in patterned settings of crystal shores. The very Polar ice
was chiseled. On the ordered plains were traced the
hieroglyphs of the faceted world. And on all Earth, Goodwin,
there was no green life, no city, no trace of man.
On this Earth that had been ours were only--These.
"Visioning!" he said. "Don't think that I accept them
in their entirety. Part truth, part illusion--the groping
mind dazzled with light of unfamiliar truths and making
pictures from half light and half shadow to help it understand.
"But still--SOME truth in them. How much I do not
know. But this I do know--that last vision was of a
cataclysm whose beginnings we face now--this very instant."
The picture flashed behind my own eyes--of the walled
city, its thronging people, its groves and gardens, its
science and its art; of the Destroying Shapes trampling
it flat--and then the dreadful, desolate mount.
And suddenly I saw that mount as Earth--the city as
Earth's cities--its gardens and groves as Earth's fields and
forests--and the vanished people of Cherkis seemed to
expand into all humanity.
"But Martin," I stammered, fighting against choking,
intolerable terror, "there was something else. Something
of the Keeper of the Cones and of our striking through
the sun to destroy the Things--something of them being
governed by the same laws that govern us and that if
they broke them they must fall. A hope--a PROMISE, that
they would NOT conquer."
"I remember," he replied, "but not clearly. There WAS
something--a shadow upon them, a menace. It was a
shadow that seemed to be born of our own world--some
threatening spirit of earth hovering over them.
"I cannot remember; it eludes me. Yet it is because I
remember but a little of it that I say those drums may not
As though his words had been a cue, the sounds again
burst forth--no longer muffled nor faint. They roared; they
seemed to pelt through air and drop upon us; they beat
about our ears with thunderous tattoo like covered caverns
drummed upon by Titans with trunks of great trees.
The drumming did not die; it grew louder, more vehement;
defiant and deafening. Within the Thing under us a
mighty pulse began to throb, accelerating rapidly to the
rhythm of that clamorous roll.
I saw Norhala draw herself up, sharply; stand listening
and alert. Under me, the throbbing turned to an uneasy
churning, a ferment.
"Drums?" muttered Drake. "THEY'RE no drums. It's
drum fire. It's like a dozen Marnes, a dozen Verduns. But
where could batteries like those come from?"
"Drums," whispered Ventnor. "They ARE drums. The
drums of Destiny!"
Louder the roaring grew. Now it was a tremendous
rhythmic cannonading. The Thing halted. The tower that
upheld Ruth and Norhala swayed, bent over the gap between
us, touched the top on which we rode.
Gently the two were plucked up; swiftly they were set
Came a shrill, keen wailing--louder than ever I had
heard before. There was an earthquake trembling; a
maelstrom swirling in which we spun; a swift sinking.
The Thing split in two. Up before us rose a stupendous,
stepped pyramid; little smaller it was than that which
Cheops built to throw its shadows across holy Nile. Into
it streamed, over it clicked, score upon score of cubes,
building it higher and higher. It lurched forward--away
From Norhala came a single cry--resonant, blaring
like a wrathful, golden trumpet.
The speeding shape halted, hesitated; it seemed about
to return. Crashed down upon us an abrupt crescendo of
the distant drumming; peremptory, commanding. The
shape darted forward; raced away crushing to straw the
trees beneath it in a full quarter-mile-wide swath.
Great gray eyes wide, filled with incredulous wonder,
stunned disbelief, Norhala for an instant faltered. Then
out of her white throat, through her red lips pelted a
tempest of staccato buglings.
Under them what was left of the Thing leaped, tore on.
Norhala's flaming hair crackled and streamed; about her
body of milk and pearl--about Ruth's creamy skin--a
radiant nimbus began to glow.
In the distance I saw a sapphire spark; knew it for
Norhala's home. Not far from it now was the rushing
pyramid--and it came to me that within that shape was
strangely neither globe nor pyramid. Nor except for the
trembling cubes that made the platform on which we
stood, did the shrunken Thing carrying us hold any unit
of the Metal Monster except its spheres and tetrahedrons
--at least within its visible bulk.
The sapphire spark had grown to a glimmering azure
marble. Steadily we gained upon the pyramid. Never for
an instant ceased that scourging hail of notes from Norhala
--never for an instant lessened the drumming clamor
that seemed to try to smother them.
The sapphire marble became a sapphire ball, a great
globe. I saw the Thing we sought to join lift itself into a
prodigious pillar; the pillar's base thrust forth stilts; upon
them the Thing stepped over the blue dome of Norhala's
The blue bubble was close; now it curved below us.
Gently we were lifted down; were set before its portal.
I looked up at the bulk that had carried us.
I had been right--built it was only of globe and pyramid;
an inconceivably grotesque shape, it hung over us.
Throughout the towering Shape was awful movement;
its units writhed within it. Then it was lost to sight in
the mists through which the Thing we had pursued had gone.
In Norhala's face as she watched it go was a dismay, a
poignant uncertainty, that held in it something indescribably pitiful.
"I am afraid!" I heard her whisper.
She tightened her grasp upon dreaming Ruth; motioned
us to go within. We passed, silently; behind us she came,
followed by three of the great globes, by a pair of her
Beside a pile of the silken stuffs she halted. The girl's
eyes dwelt upon hers trustingly.
"I am afraid!" whispered Norhala again. "Afraid--for you!"
Tenderly she looked down upon her, the galaxies of
stars in her eyes soft and tremulous.
"I am afraid, little sister," she whispered for the third
time. "Not yet can you go as I do--among the fires." She
hesitated. "Rest here until I return. I shall leave these to
guard you and obey you."
She motioned to the five shapes. They ranged themselves
about Ruth. Norhala kissed her upon both brown eyes.
"Sleep till I return," she murmured.
She swept from the chamber--with never a glance for
us three. I heard a little wailing chorus without, fast dying
Spheres and pyramids twinkled at us, guarding the
silken pile whereon Ruth lay asleep--like some enchanted
Beat down upon the blue globe like hollow metal
worlds, beaten and shrieking.
The drums of Destiny!
The drums of Doom!
Beating taps for the world of men?
For many minutes we stood silent, in the shadowy chamber,
listening, each absorbed in his own thoughts. The
thunderous drumming was continuous; sometimes it
faded into a background for clattering storms as of
thousands of machine guns, thousands of riveters at work
at once upon a thousand metal frameworks; sometimes it
was nearly submerged beneath splitting crashes as of meeting
meteors of hollow steel.
But always the drumming persisted, rhythmic, thunderous.
Through it all Ruth slept, undisturbed, cheek pillowed
in one rounded arm, the two great pyramids
erect behind her, watchful; a globe at her feet, a globe
at her head, the third sphere poised between her and us,
and, like the pyramids--watchful.
What was happening out there--over the edge of the
canyon, beyond the portal of the cliffs, behind the veils, in
the Pit of the Metal Monster? What was the message of
the roaring drums? What the rede of their clamorous
Ventnor stepped by the sentinel globe, bent over the
tranced girl. Sphere nor pointed pair stirred; only they
watched him--like a palpable thing one felt their watchfulness.
He listened to her heart, caught up a wrist, took
note of her pulse of life. He drew a deep breath, stood
upright, nodded reassuringly.
Abruptly Drake turned, walked out through the open
portal, his strain and a very deep anxiety written plainly
in deep lines that ran from nostrils to firm young mouth.
"Just went out to look for the pony," he muttered when
he returned. "It's safe. I was afraid it had been stepped
on. It's getting dusk. There's a big light down the canyon
--over in the valley."
Ventnor drew back past the globe; rejoined us.
The blue bower trembled under a gust of sound. Ruth
stirred; her brows knitted; her hands clenched. The sphere
that stood before her spun on its axis, swept up to the
globe at her head, glided from it to the globe at her
feet--as though whispering. Ruth moaned--her body bent
upright, swayed rigidly. Her eyes opened; they stared
through us as though upon some dreadful vision; and
strangely was it as though she were seeing with another's
eyes, were reflecting another's sufferings.
The globes at her feet and at her head swirled out,
clustering against the third sphere--three weird shapes
in silent consultation. On Ventnor's face I saw pity--
and a vast relief. With shocked amaze I realized that
Ruth's agony--for in agony she clearly was--was calling
forth in him elation. He spoke--and I knew why.
"Norhala!" he whispered. "She is seeing with Norhala's
eyes--feeling what Norhala feels. It's not going well with
--That--out there. If we dared leave Ruth--could only,
Ruth leaped to her feet; cried out--a golden bugling
that might have been Norhala's own wrathful trumpet
notes. Instantly the two pyramids flamed open, became
two gleaming stars that bathed her in violet radiance.
Beneath their upper tips I saw the blasting ovals glitter--
The girl glared at us--more brilliant grew the glittering
ovals as though their lightnings trembled on their lips.
"Ruth!" called Ventnor softly.
A shadow softened the intolerable, hard brilliancy of the
brown eyes. In them something struggled to arise, fighting
its way to the surface like some drowning human thing.
It sank back--upon her face dropped a cloud of heartbreak,
appalling woe; the despair of a soul that, having
withdrawn all faith in its own kind to rest all faith, as it
thought, on angels--sees that faith betrayed.
There stared upon us a stripped spirit, naked and hopeless
Despairing, raging, she screamed once more. The central
globe swam to her; it raised her upon its back; glided
to the doorway. Upon it she stood poised like some youthful,
anguished Victory--a Victory who faced and knew
she faced destroying defeat; poised upon that enigmatic
orb on bare slender feet, one sweet breast bare, hands
upraised, virginally archaic, nothing about her of the
Ruth we knew.
"Ruth!" cried Drake; despair as great as that upon her
face was in his voice. He sprang before the globe that
held her; barred its way.
For an instant the Thing paused--and in that instant
the human soul of the girl rushed back.
"No!" she cried. "No!"
A weird call issued from the white lips--stumbling, uncertain,
as though she who sent it forth herself wondered
whence it sprang. Abruptly the angry stars closed. The
three globes spun--doubting, puzzled! Again she called--
now a tremulous, halting cadence. She was lifted; dropped
gently to her feet.
For an instant the globes and pyramids whirled and
danced before her--then sped away through the portal.
Ruth swayed, sobbing. Then as though drawn, she ran
to the doorway, fled through it. As one we sprang after
her. Rods ahead her white body flashed, speeding toward
the Pit. Like fleet-footed Atalanta she fled--and far, far
behind us was the blue bower, the misty barrier of the
veils close, when Drake with a last desperate burst reached
her side, gripped her. Down the two fell, rolling upon the
smooth roadway. Silently she fought, biting, tearing at
Drake, struggling to escape.
"Quick!" gasped Ventnor, stretching out to me an
arm. "Cut off the sleeve. Quick!"
Unquestioningly, I drew my knife, ripped the garment
at the shoulder. He snatched the sleeve, knelt at Ruth's
head; rapidly he crumpled an end, thrust it roughly into
her mouth; tied it fast, gagging her.
"Hold her!" he ordered Drake; and with a sob of relief
sprang up. The girl's eyes blazed at him, filled with hate.
"Cut that other sleeve," he said; and when I had done
so, he knelt again, pinned Ruth down with a knee at her
throat, turned her over and knotted her hands behind
her. She ceased struggling; gently now he drew up the
curly head; swung her upon her back.
"Hold her feet." He nodded to Drake, who caught the
slender bare ankles in his hands.
She lay there, helpless, being unable to use her hands
"Too little Ruth, and too much Norhala," said Ventnor,
looking up at me. "If she'd only thought to cry out! She
could have brought a regiment of those Things down to
blast us. And would--if she HAD thought. You don't think
THAT is Ruth, do you?"
He pointed to the pallid face glaring at him, the eyes
from which cold fires flamed.
"No, you don't!" He caught Drake by the shoulder,
sent him spinning a dozen feet away. "Damn it, Drake--
don't you understand!"
For suddenly Ruth's eyes softened; she had turned
them on Dick pitifully, appealingly--and he had loosed
her ankles, had leaned forward as though to draw away
the band that covered her lips.
"Your gun," whispered Ventnor to me; before I had
moved he had snatched the automatic from my holster;
had covered Drake with it.
"Drake," he said, "stand where you are. If you take
another step toward this girl I'll shoot you--by God, I
Drake halted, shocked amazement in his face; I myself
felt resentful, wondering at his outburst.
"But it's hurting her," he muttered, Ruth's eyes, soft and
pleading, still dwelt upon him.
"Hurting her!" exclaimed Ventnor. "Man--she's my sister!
I know what I'm doing. Can't you see? Can't you see
how little of Ruth is in that body there--how little of
the girl you love? How or why I don't know--but that it
is so I DO know. Drake--have you forgotten how Norhala
beguiled Cherkis? I want my sister back. I'm helping
her to get back. Now let be. I know what I'm doing. Look
We looked. In the face that glared up at Ventnor was
nothing of Ruth--even as he had said. There was the
same cold, awesome wrath that had rested upon Norhala's
as she watched Cherkis weep over the eating up of
his city. Swiftly came a change--like the sudden smoothing
out of the rushing waves of a hill-locked, wind-lashed lake.
The face was again Ruth's face--and Ruth's alone; the
eyes were Ruth's eyes--supplicating, adjuring.
"Ruth!" Ventnor cried. "While you can hear--am I
She nodded vigorously, sternly; she was lost, hidden
"You see." He turned to us grimly.
A shattering shaft of light flashed upon the veils; almost
pierced them. An avalanche of sound passed high
above us. Yet now I noted that where we stood the
clamor was lessened, muffled. Of course, it came to me,
it was the veils.
I wondered why--for whatever the quality of the
radiant mists, their purpose certainly had to do with
concentration of the magnetic flux. The deadening of the
noise must be accidental, could have nothing to do with
their actual use; for sound is an air vibration solely. No
--it must be a secondary effect. The Metal Monster was as
heedless of clamor as it was of heat or cold--
"We've got to see," Ventnor broke the chain of
thought. "We've got to get through and see what's
happening. Win or lose--we've got to KNOW."
"Cut off your sleeve, as I did," he motioned to Drake.
"Tie her ankles. We'll carry her."
Quickly it was done. Ruth's light body swinging between
brother and lover, we moved forward into the mists;
we crept cautiously through their dead silences.
Passed out and fell back into them from a searing chaos
of light, chaotic tumult.
From the slackened grip of Ventnor and Drake the
body of Ruth dropped while we three stood blinded,
deafened, fighting for recovery. Ruth twisted, rolled
toward the brink; Ventnor threw himself upon her, held her
Dragging her, crawling on our knees, we crept forward;
we stopped when the thinning of the mists permitted us
to see through them yet still interposed a curtaining
which, though tenuous, dimmed the intolerable brilliancy
that filled the Pit, muffled its din to a degree we
I peered through them--and nerve and muscle were
locked in the grip of a paralyzing awe. I felt then as one
would feel set close to warring regiments of stars, made
witness to the death-throes of a universe, or swept
through space and held above the whirling coils of Andromeda's
nebula to watch its birth agonies of nascent suns.
These are no figures of speech, no hyperboles--speck as
our whole planet would be in Andromeda's vast loom,
pinprick as was the Pit to the cyclone craters of our
own sun, within the cliff-cupped walls of the valley was a
tangible, struggling living force akin to that which dwells
within the nebula and the star; a cosmic spirit transcending
all dimensions and thrusting its confines out into
the infinite; a sentient emanation of the infinite itself.
Nor was its voice less unearthly. It used the shell of the
earth valley for its trumpetings, its clangors--but as one
hears in the murmurings of the fluted conch the great
voice of ocean, its whispering and its roarings, so here in
the clamorous shell of the Pit echoed the tremendous
voices of that illimitable sea which laps the shores of
the countless suns.
I looked upon a mighty whirlpool miles and miles wide.
It whirled with surges whose racing crests were smiting
incandescences; it was threaded with a spindrift of lightnings;
it was trodden by dervish mists of molten flame
thrust through with forests of lances of living light. It cast
a cadent spray high to the heavens.
Over it the heavens glittered as though they were a
shield held by fearful gods. Through the maelstrom staggered
a mountainous bulk; a gleaming leviathan of pale
blue metal caught in the swirling tide of some incredible
volcano; a huge ark of metal breasting a deluge of flame.
And the drumming we heard as of hollow beaten metal
worlds, the shouting tempests of cannonading stars,
was the breaking of these incandescent crests, the falling
of the lightning spindrift, the rhythmic impact of the
lanced rays upon the glimmering mountain that reeled
and trembled as they struck it.
The reeling mountain, the struggling leviathan, was--
It was the mass of the Metal Monster itself, guarded
by, stormed by, its own legions that though separate from
it were still as much of it as were the cells that formed
the skin of its walls, its carapace.
It was the Metal Monster tearing, rending, fighting for,
Mile high as when I had first beheld it was the inexplicable
body that held the great heart of the cones into
which had been drawn the magnetic cataracts from our
sun; that held too the smaller hearts of the lesser cones,
the workshops, the birth chamber and manifold other
mysteries unguessed and unseen. By a full fourth had its
base been shrunken.
Ranged in double line along the side turned toward us
were hundreds of dread forms--Shapes that in their intensity
bore down upon, oppressed with a nightmare weight, the consciousness.
Rectangular, upon their outlines no spike of pyramid,
no curve of globe showing, uncompromisingly ponderous,
they upthrust. Upon the tops of the first rank were
enormous masses, sledge shaped--like those metal fists
that had battered down the walls of Cherkis's city but
to them as the human hand is to the paw of the dinosaur.
Conceive this--conceive these Shapes as animate and
flexible; beating down with the prodigious mallets, smashing
from side to side as though the tremendous pillars
that held them were thousand jointed upright pistons;
that as closely as I can present it in images of things we
know is the picture of the Hammering Things.
Behind them stood a second row, high as they and as
angular. From them extended scores of girdered arms.
These were thickly studded with the flaming cruciform
shapes, the opened cubes gleaming with their angry flares
of reds and smoky yellows. From the tentacles of many
swung immense shields like those which ringed the hall of
the great cones.
And as the sledges beat, ever over their bent heads
poured from the crosses a flood of crimson lightnings. Out
of the concave depths of the shields whipped lashes of
blinding flame. With ropes of fire they knouted the Things
the sledges struck, the sullen crimson levins blasted.
Now I could see the Shapes that attacked. Grotesque;
spined and tusked, spiked and antlered, wenned and
breasted; as chimerically angled, cusped and cornute as
though they were the superangled, supercornute gods
of the cusped and angled gods of the Javanese, they strove
against the sledge-headed and smiting, the multiarmed and
blasting square towers.
High as them, as huge as they, incomparably fantastic,
in dozens of shifting forms they battled.
More than a mile from the stumbling City stood
ranged like sharpshooters a host of solid, bristling-legged
towers. Upon their tops spun gigantic wheels. Out of the
centers of these wheels shot the radiant lances, hosts of
spears of intensest violet light. The radiance they volleyed
was not continuous; it was broken, so that the javelin rays
shot out in rhythmic flights, each flying fast upon the
shafts of the others.
It was their impact that sent forth the thunderous drumming.
They struck and splintered against the walls, dropping
from them in great gouts of molten flame. It was as
though before they broke they pierced the wall, the
Monster's side, bled fire.
With the crashing of broadsides of massed batteries
the sledges smashed down upon the bristling attackers.
Under the awful impact globes and pyramids were shattered
into hundreds of fragments, rocket bursts of blue
and azure and violet flame, flames rainbowed and irised.
The hammer ends split, flew apart, were scattered, were
falling showers of sulphurous yellow and scarlet meteors.
But ever other cubes swarmed out and repaired the
broken smiting tips. And always where a tusked and
cornute shape had been battered down, disintegrated,
another arose as huge and as formidable pouring forth
upon the squared tower its lightnings, tearing at it with
colossal spiked and hooked claws, beating it with incredible
spiked and globular fists that were like the
clenched hands of some metal Atlas.
As the striving Shapes swayed and wrestled, gave way
or thrust forward, staggered or fell, the bulk of the
Monster stumbled and swayed, advanced and retreated--an
unearthly motion wedded to an amorphous immensity that
flooded the watching consciousness with a deathly nausea.
Unceasingly the hail of radiant lances poured from the
spinning wheels, falling upon Towered Shapes and City's
wall alike. There arose a prodigious wailing, an unearthly
thin screaming. About the bases of the defenders flashed
blinding bursts of incandescence--like those which had
heralded the flight of the Flying Thing dropping before
Unlike them they held no dazzling sapphire brilliancies;
they were ochreous, suffused with raging vermilion. Nevertheless
they were factors of that same inexplicable action
--for from thousands of gushing lights leaped thousands
of gigantic square pillars; unimaginable projectiles hurled
from the flaming mouths of earth-hidden, titanic mortars.
They soared high, swerved and swooped upon the lance-throwers.
Beneath their onslaught those chimerae tottered, I saw living
projectiles and living target fuse where they met--melt and
weld in jets of lightnings.
But not all. There were those that tore great gaps in the
horned giants--wounds that instantly were healed with
globes and pyramids seething out from the Cyclopean
trunk. Ever the incredible projectiles flashed and flew as
though from some inexhaustible store; ever uprose that
prodigious barrage against the smiting rays.
Now to check them soared from the ranks of the besiegers
clouds of countless horned dragons, immense
cylinders of clustered cubes studded with the clinging
tetrahedrons. They struck the cubed projectiles head on;
aimed themselves to meet them.
Bristling dragon and hurtling pillar stuck and fused
or burst with intolerable blazing. They fell--cube and
sphere and pyramid--some half opened, some fully, in a
rain of disks, of stars, huge flaming crosses; a storm of
Now I became conscious that within the City--within
the body of the Metal Monster--there raged a strife
colossal as this without. From it came a vast volcanic
roaring. Up from its top shot tortured flames, cascades
and fountains of frenzied Things that looped and struggled,
writhed over its edge, hurled themselves back; battling
chimerae which against the glittering heavens traced
luminous symbols of agony.
Shrilled a stronger wailing. Up from behind the ray
hurling Towers shot hosts of globes. Thousands of palely
azure, metal moons they soared; warrior moons charging in
meteor rush and streaming with fluttering battle pennons
of violet flame. High they flew; they curved over the mile
high back of the Monster; they dropped upon it.
Arose to meet them immense columns of the cubes;
battered against the spheres; swept them over and down
into the depths. Hundreds fell, broken--but thousands
held their place. I saw them twine about the pillars--
writhing columns of interlaced cubes and globes straining
like monstrous serpents while all along their coils the
open disks and crosses smote with the scimitars of their
In the wall of the City appeared a shining crack; from
top to bottom it ran; it widened into a rift from which a
flood of radiance gushed. Out of this rift poured a
thousand-foot-high torrent of horned globes.
Only for an instant they flowed. The rift closed upon
them, catching those still emerging in a colossal vise. It
CRUNCHED them. Plain through the turmoil came a dreadful
Down from the closing jaws of the vise dripped a stream
of fragments that flashed and flickered--and died. And
now in the wall was no trace of the breach.
A hurricane of radiant lances swept it. Under them a
mile wide section of the living scarp split away; dropped
like an avalanche. Its fall revealed great spaces, huge
vaults and chambers filled with warring lightnings--out
from them came roaring, bellowing thunders. Swiftly from
each side of the gap a metal curtaining of the cubes
joined. Again the wall was whole.
I turned my stunned gaze from the City--swept over the
valley. Everywhere, in towers, in writhing coils, in whipping
flails, in waves that smote and crashed, in countless
forms and combinations the Metal Hordes battled. Here
were pillars against which metal billows rushed and were
broken; there were metal comets that crashed high above
the mad turmoil.
From streaming silent veil to veil--north and south,
east and west the Monster slew itself beneath its racing,
flaming banners, the tempests of its lightnings.
The tortured hulk of the City lurched; it swept toward
us. Before it blotted out from our eyes the Pit I saw
that the crystal spans upon the river of jade were gone;
that the wondrous jeweled ribbons of its banks were
Closer came the reeling City.
I fumbled for my lenses, focussed them upon it. Now I
saw that where the radiant lances struck they--killed the
blocks blackened under them, became lustreless; the
sparkling of the tiny eyes--went out; the metal carapaces
Closer to the City--came the Monster; shuddering I
lowered the glasses that it might not seem so near.
Down dropped the bristling Shapes that wrestled with
the squared Towers. They rose again in a single monstrous
wave that rushed to overwhelm them. Before they could
strike the City swept closer; had hidden them from me.
Again I raised the glasses. They brought the metal scarp
not fifty feet away--within it the hosts of tiny eyes
glittered, no longer mocking nor malicious, but insane.
Nearer drew the Monster--nearer.
A thousand feet away it checked its movement, seemed
to draw itself together. Then like the roar of a falling
world that whole side facing us slid down to the valley's
Hundreds of feet through must have been the fallen
mass--within it who knows what chambers filled with
mysteries? Yes, thousands of feet thick it must have been,
for the debris of it splintered and lashed to the very
edge of the ledge on which we crouched; heaped it with
the dimming fragments of the bodies that had formed it.
We looked into a thousand vaults, a thousand spaces.
There came another avalanche roaring--before us opened
the crater of the cones.
Through the torn gap I saw them, clustering undisturbed
about the base of that one slender, coroneted and
star pointing spire, rising serene and unshaken from a
hell of lightnings. But the shields that had rimmed the
crater were gone.
Ventnor snatched the glasses from my hand, leveled
and held them long to his eyes.
He thrust them back to me. "Look!"
Through the lenses the great hall leaped into full view
apparently only a few yards away. It was a cauldron of
chameleon flame. It seethed with the Hordes battling
over the remaining walls and floor. But around the crystal
base of the cones was an open zone into which none broke.
In that wide ring, girdling the shimmering fantasy like
a circled sanctuary, were but three forms. One was the
wondrous Disk of jeweled fires I have called the Metal
Emperor; the second was the sullen fired cruciform of the
The third was Norhala!
She stood at the side of that weird master of hers--or
was it after all the servant? Between them and the Keeper's
planes gleamed the gigantic T-shaped tablet of countless
rods which controlled the activities of the cones; that
had controlled the shifting of the vanished shields; that
manipulated too, perhaps, the energies of whatever similar
but smaller cornute ganglia were scattered throughout the
City and one of which we had beheld when the Emperor's
guards had blasted Ventnor.
Close was Norhala in the lenses--so close that almost,
it seemed, I could reach out and touch her. The flaming
hair streamed and billowed above her glorious head like
a banner of molten floss of coppery gold; her face was a
mask of wrath and despair; her great eyes blazed upon
the Keeper; her exquisite body was bare, stripped of
every shred of silken covering.
From streaming tresses to white feet an oval of pulsing,
golden light nimbused her. Maiden Isis, virgin Astarte she
stood there, held in the grip of the Disk--like a goddess
betrayed and hopeless yet thirsting for vengeance.
For all their stillness, their immobility, it came to me
that Emperor and Keeper were at grapple, locked in death
grip; the realization was as definite as though, like Ruth,
I thought with Norhala's mind, saw with her eyes.
Clearly too it came to me that in this contest between
the two was epitomized all the vast conflict that raged
around them; that in it was fast ripening that fruit of
destiny of which Ventnor had spoken, and that here
in the Hall of the Cones would be settled--and soon--
the fate not only of Disk and Cross, but it might be
But with what unknown powers was that duel being
fought? They cast no lightnings, they battled with no
visible weapons. Only the great planes of the inverted
cruciform Shape smoked and smoldered with their sullen
flares of ochres and of scarlets; while over all the face of
the Disk its cold and irised fires raced and shone, beating
with a rhythm incredibly rapid; its core of incandescent
ruby blazed, its sapphire ovals were cabochoned pools
of living, lucent radiance.
There was a splitting roar that arose above all the
clamor, deafening us even in the shelter of the silent veils.
On each side of the crater whole masses of the City
dropped away. Fleetingly I was aware of scores of
smaller pits in which uprose lesser replicas of the Coned
Mount, lesser reservoirs of the Monster's force.
Neither the Emperor nor the Keeper moved, both seemingly
indifferent to the catastrophe fast developing around them.
Now I strained forward to the very thinnest edge of the
curtainings. For between the Disk and Cross began to
form fine black mist. It was transparent. It seemed spun
of minute translucent ebon corpuscles. It hung like a black
shroud suspended by unseen hands. It shook and wavered
now toward the Disk, now toward the Cross.
I sensed a keying up of force within the two; knew that
each was striving to cast like a net that hanging mist
upon the other.
Abruptly the Emperor flashed forth, blindingly. As
though caught upon a blast, the black shroud flew toward
the Keeper--enveloped it. And as the mist covered and
clung I saw the sulphurous and crimson flares dim. They
were snuffed out.
The Keeper fell!
Upon Norhala's face flamed a wild triumph, banishing
despair. The outstretched planes of the Cross swept up
as though in torment. For an instant its fires flared and
licked through the clinging blackness; it writhed half upright,
threw itself forward, crashed down prostrate upon the enigmatic
tablet which only its tentacles could manipulate.
From Norhala's face the triumph fled. On its heels
rushed stark, incredulous horror.
The Mount of Cones shuddered. From it came a single
mighty throb of force--like a prodigious heart-beat. Under
that pulse of power the Emperor staggered, spun--and
spinning, swept Norhala from her feet, swung her close to
its flashing rose.
A second throb pulsed from the cones, and mightier.
A spasm shook the Disk--a paroxysm.
Its fires faded; they flared out again, bathing the floating,
unearthly figure of Norhala with their iridescences.
I saw her body writhe--as though it shared the agony of the
Shape that held her. Her head twisted; the great eyes, pools
of uncomprehending, unbelieving horror, stared into mine.
With a spasmodic, infinitely dreadful movement the
And closed upon her!
Norhala was gone--was shut within it. Crushed to the
pent fires of its crystal heart.
I heard a sobbing, agonized choking--knew it was I who
sobbed. Against me I felt Ruth's body strike, bend in
convulsive arc, drop inert.
The slender steeple of the cones drooped sending its
faceted coronet shattering to the floor. The Mount melted.
Beneath the flooding radiance sprawled Keeper and the
great inert Globe that was the Goddess woman's sepulcher.
The crater filled with the pallid luminescence. Faster
and ever faster it poured down into the Pit. And from
all the lesser craters of the smaller cones swept silent
cataracts of the same pale radiance.
The City began to crumble--the Monster to fall.
Like pent-up waters rushing through a broken dam the
gleaming deluge swept over the valley; gushing in steady
torrents from the breaking mass. Over the valley fell a vast
silence. The lightnings ceased. The Metal Hordes stood
rigid, the shining flood lapping at their bases, rising swiftly
Now from the sinking City swarmed multitudes of its
Out they trooped, swirling from every rent and gap--
orbs scarlet and sapphire, ruby orbs, orbs tuliped and irised
--the jocund suns of the birth chamber and side by side
with them hosts of the frozen, pale gilt, stiff rayed suns.
Thousands upon thousands they marched forth and
poised themselves solemnly over all the Pit that now was a
fast rising lake of yellow froth of sun flame.
They swept forth in squadrons, in companies, in regiments,
those mysterious orbs. They floated over all the
valley; they separated and swung motionless above it as
though they were mysterious multiple souls of fire brooding
over the dying shell that had held them.
Beneath, thrusting up from the lambent lake like grotesque
towers of some drowned fantastic metropolis, the
great Shapes stood, black against its glowing.
What had been the City--that which had been the
bulk of the Monster--was now only a vast and shapeless
hill from which streamed the silent torrents of that
released, unknown force which, concentrate and bound, had
been the cones.
As though it was the Monster's shining life-blood it
poured, raising ever higher in its swift flooding the level
Lower and lower sank the immense bulk; squattered
and spread, ever lowering--about its helpless, patient
crouching something ineffably piteous, something indescribably,
Abruptly the watching orbs shook under a hail of sparkling
atoms streaming down from the glittering sky; raining
upon the lambent lake. So thick they fell that now the
brooding luminaries were dim aureoles within them.
From the Pit came a blinding, insupportable brilliancy.
From every rigid tower gleamed out jeweled fires; their
clinging units opened into blazing star and disk and cross.
The City was a hill of living gems over which flowed
torrents of pale molten gold.
The Pit blazed.
There followed an appalling tensity; a prodigious gathering
of force; a panic stirring concentration of energy.
Thicker fell the clouds of sparkling atoms--higher rose
the yellow flood.
Ventnor cried out. I could not hear him, but I read his
purpose--and so did Drake. Up on his broad shoulders he
swung Ruth as though she had been a child. Back
through the throbbing veils we ran; passed out of them.
"Back!" shouted Ventnor. "Back as far as you can!"
On we raced; we reached the gateway of the cliffs; we
dashed on and on--up the shining roadway toward the
blue globe now a scant mile before us; ran sobbing, panting
--ran, we knew, for our lives.
Out of the Pit came a sound--I cannot describe it!
An unutterably desolate, dreadful wail of despair, it
shuddered past us like the groaning of a broken-hearted
star--anguished and awesome.
It died. There rushed upon us a sea of that incredible
loneliness, that longing for extinction that had assailed
us in the haunted hollow where first we had seen Norhala.
But its billows were resistless, invincible. Beneath them
we fell; were torn by desire for swift death.
Dimly, through fainting eyes, I saw a dazzling brilliancy
fill the sky; heard with dying ears a chaotic, blasting roar.
A wave of air thicker than water caught us up, hurled us
hundreds of yards forward. It dropped us; in its wake
rushed another wave, withering, scorching.
It raced over us. Scorching though it was, within its
heat was energizing, revivifying force; something that slew
the deadly despair and fed the fading fires of life.
I staggered to my feet; looked back. The veils were gone.
The precipice walled gateway they had curtained was filled
with a Plutonic glare as though it opened into the incandescent
heart of a volcano.
Ventnor clutched my shoulder, spun me around. He pointed to
the sapphire house, started to run to it. Far ahead I saw
Drake, the body of the girl clasped to his breast. The heat
became blasting, insupportable; my lungs burned.
Over the sky above the canyon streaked a serpentine
chain of lightnings. A sudden cyclonic gust swept the cleft,
whirling us like leaves toward the Pit.
I threw myself upon my face, clutching at the smooth
rock. A volley of thunder burst--but not the thunder of
the Metal Monster or its Hordes; no, the bellowing of the
levins of our own earth.
And the wind was cold; it bathed the burning skin; laved
the fevered lungs.
Again the sky was split by the lightnings. And roaring
down from it in solid sheets came the rain.
From the Pit arose a hissing as though within it raged
Babylonian Tiamat, Mother of Chaos, serpent dweller in
the void; Midgard-snake of the ancient Norse holding
in her coils the world.
Buffeted by wind, beaten down by rain, clinging to each
other like drowning men, Ventnor and I pushed on to the
elfin globe. The light was dying fast. By it we saw Drake
pass within the portal with his burden. The light became
embers; it went out; blackness clasped us. Guided by the
lightnings, we beat our way to the door; passed through it.
In the electric glare we saw Drake bending over Ruth.
In it I saw a slide draw over the open portal through
which shrieked the wind, streamed the rain.
As though its crystal panel was moved by unseen, gentle
hands, the portal closed; the tempest shut out.
We dropped beside Ruth upon a pile of silken stuffs--
awed, marveling, trembling with pity and--thanksgiving.
For we knew--each of us knew with an absolute definiteness
as we crouched there among the racing, dancing
black and silver shadows with which the lightnings filled
the blue globe--that the Metal Monster was dead.
Slain by itself!
Ruth sighed and stirred. By the glare of the lightnings,
now almost continuous, we saw that her rigidity, and in
fact all the puzzling cataleptic symptoms, had disappeared.
Her limbs relaxed, her skin faintly flushed, she lay in
deepest but natural slumber undisturbed by the incessant
cannonading of the thunder under which the walls of
the blue globe shuddered. Ventnor passed through the curtains
of the central hall; he returned with one of Norhala's cloaks;
covered the girl with it.
An overwhelming sleepiness took possession of me, a
weariness ineffable. Nerve and brain and muscle suddenly
relaxed, went slack and numb. Without a struggle I surrendered
to an overpowering stupor and cradled deep in its heart ceased
consciously to be.
When my eyes unclosed the chamber of the moonstone
walls was filled with a silvery, crepuscular light. I heard
the murmuring and laughing of running water, the play, I
lazily realized, of the fountained pool.
I lay for whole minutes unthinking, luxuriating in the
sense of tension gone and of security; lay steeped in the
aftermath of complete rest. Memory flooded me.
Quietly I sat up; Ruth still slept, breathing peacefully
beneath the cloak, one white arm stretched over the shoulder
of Drake--as though in her sleep she had drawn close to him.
At her feet lay Ventnor, as deep in slumber as they. I
arose and tip-toed over to the closed door.
Searching, I found its key; a cupped indentation upon
which I pressed.
The crystalline panel slipped back; it was moved, I
suppose, by some mechanism of counterbalances responding
to the weight of the hand. It must have been some
vibration of the thunder which had loosed that mechanism
and had closed the panel upon the heels of our entrance
--so I thought--then seeing again in memory that
uncanny, deliberate shutting was not at all convinced that
it had been the thunder.
I looked out. How many hours the sun had been up
there was no means of knowing.
The sky was low and slaty gray; a fine rain was falling.
I stepped out.
The garden of Norhala was a wreckage of uprooted and splintered
trees and torn masses of what had been blossoming verdure.
The gateway of the precipices beyond which lay the Pit
was hidden in the webs of the rain. Long I gazed down
the canyon--and longingly; striving to picture what the
Pit now held; eager to read the riddles of the night.
There came from the valley no sound, no movement,
I reentered the blue globe and paused on the threshold
--staring into the wide and wondering eyes of Ruth bolt
upright in her silken bed with Norhala's cloak clutched to
her chin like a suddenly awakened and startled child. As
she glimpsed me she stretched out her hand. Drake, wide
awake on the instant, leaped to his feet, his hand jumping
to his pistol.
"Dick!" called Ruth, her voice tremulous, sweet.
He swung about, looked deep into the clear and fearless
brown eyes in which--with leaping heart I realized it
--was throned only that spirit which was Ruth's and Ruth's
alone; Ruth's clear unshadowed eyes glad and shy and
soft with love.
"Dick!" she whispered, and held soft arms out to him.
The cloak fell from her. He swung her up. Their lips met.
Upon them, embraced, the wakening eyes of Ventnor
dwelt; they filled with relief and joy, nor was there
lacking in them a certain amusement.
She drew from Drake's arms, pushed him from her,
stood for a moment shakily, with covered eyes.
"Ruth," called Ventnor softly.
"Oh!" she cried. "Oh, Martin--I forgot--" She ran to
him, held him tight, face hidden in his breast. His hand
rested on the clustering brown curls, tenderly.
"Martin." She raised her face to him. "Martin, it's GONE!
I'm--ME again! All ME! What happened? Where's Norhala?"
I started. Did she not know? Of course, lying bound
as she had in the vanished veils, she could have seen
nothing of the stupendous tragedy enacted beyond them
--but had not Ventnor said that possessed by the inexplicable
obsession evoked by the weird woman Ruth had seen with her eyes,
thought with her mind?
And had there not been evidence that in her body had
been echoed the torments of Norhala's? Had she forgotten?
I started to speak--was checked by Ventnor's swift, warning glance.
"She's--over in the Pit," he answered her quietly. "But
do you remember nothing, little sister?"
"There's something in my mind that's been rubbed
out," she replied. "I remember the City of Cherkis--and
your torture, Martin--and my torture--"
Her face whitened; Ventnor's brow contracted anxiously.
I knew for what he watched--but Ruth's shamed face
was all human; on it was no shadow nor trace of that
alien soul which so few hours since had threatened us.
"Yes," she nodded, "I remember that. And I remember
how Norhala repaid them. I remember that I was glad,
fiercely glad, and then I was tired--so tired. And then--I
come to the rubbed-out place," she ended perplexedly.
Deliberately, almost banally had I not realized his purpose,
he changed the subject. He held her from him at arm's length.
"Ruth!" he exclaimed, half mockingly, half reprovingly.
"Don't you think your morning negligee is just a little
scanty even for this Godforsaken corner of the earth?"
Lips parted in sheer astonishment, she looked at him.
Then her eyes dropped to her bare feet, her dimpled knees.
She clasped her arms across her breasts; rosy red turned
all her fair skin.
"Oh!" she gasped. "Oh!" And hid from Drake and me
behind the tall figure of her brother.
I walked over to the pile of silken stuffs, took the cloak
and tossed it to her. Ventnor pointed to the saddlebags.
"You've another outfit there, Ruth," he said. "We'll take
a turn through the place. Call us when you're ready. We'll
get something to eat and go see what's happening--out there."
She nodded. We passed through the curtains and out of
the hall into the chamber that had been Norhala's. There
we halted, Drake eyeing Martin with a certain embarrassment.
The older man thrust out his hand to him.
"I knew it, Drake," he said. "Ruth told me all about it
when Cherkis had us. And I'm very glad. It's time she
was having a home of her own and not running around
the lost places with me. I'll miss her--miss her damnably,
of course. But I'm glad, boy--glad!"
There was a little silence while each looked deep into
each other's hearts. Then Ventnor dropped Dick's hand.
"And that's all of THAT," he said. "The problem before
us is--how are we going to get back home?"
"The--THING--is dead." I spoke from an absolute conviction
that surprised me, based as it was upon no really
tangible, known evidence.
"I think so," he said. "No--I KNOW so. Yet even if we
can pass over its body, how can we climb out of its lair?
That slide down which we rode with Norhala is unclimbable.
The walls are unscalable. And there is that chasm--she--
spanned for us. How can we cross THAT? The
tunnel to the ruins was sealed. There remains of possible
roads the way through the forest to what was the City of
Cherkis. Frankly I am loathe to take it.
"I am not at all sure that all the armored men were
slain--that some few may not have escaped and be lurking
there. It would be short shrift for us if we fell into
their hands now."
"And I'm not sure of THAT," objected Drake. "I think
their pep and push must be pretty thoroughly knocked out
--if any do remain. I think if they saw us coming they'd
beat it so fast that they'd smoke with the friction."
"There's something to that," Ventnor smiled. "Still
I'm not keen on taking the chance. At any rate, the
first thing to do is to see what happened down there in
the Pit. Maybe we'll have some other idea after that."
"I know what happened there," announced Drake, surprisingly.
"It was a short circuit!"
We gaped at him, mystified.
"Burned out!" said Drake. "Every damned one of them
--burned out. What were they, after all? A lot of living
dynamos. Dynamotors--rather. And all of a sudden they
had too much juice turned on. Bang went their insulations
--whatever they were.
"Bang went they. Burned out--short circuited. I don't
pretend to know why or how. Nonsense! I do know. The
cones were some kind of immensely concentrated force--
electric, magnetic; either or both or more. I myself
believe that they were probably solid--in a way of speaking
"If about twenty of the greatest scientists the world has
ever known are right, coronium is--well, call it curdled
energy. The electric potentiality of Niagara in a pin
point of dust of yellow fire. All right--they or IT lost
control. Every pin point swelled out into a Niagara. And as
it did so, it expanded from a controlled dust dot to an
uncontrolled cataract--in other words, its energy was
unleashed and undammed.
"Very well--what followed? What HAD to follow? Every
living battery of block and globe and spike was supercharged
and went--blooey. The valley must have been
some sweet little volcano while that short circuiting was
going on. All right--let's go down and see what it did
to your unclimbable slide and unscalable walls, Ventnor.
I'm not sure we won't be able to get out that way."
"Come on; everything's ready," Ruth was calling; her
summoning blocked any objection we might have raised
to Drake's argument.
It was no dryad, no distressed pagan clad maid we saw
as we passed back into the room of the pool. In knickerbockers
and short skirt, prim and self-possessed, rebellious curls
held severely in place by close-fitting cap and
slender feet stoutly shod, Ruth hovered over the steaming
kettle swung above the spirit lamp.
And she was very silent as we hastily broke fast. Nor